Bernard Rimland, Autism Pioneer 1928-2006

Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., a visionary autism research pioneer and the man most responsible for debunking the "refrigerator Mom" theory of autism, died Nov. 21, 2006 in San Diego at the age of 78. A California psychologist and father of a child diagnosed with autism at age two, Dr. Rimland wrote his landmark book "Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior" in 1964.

Rejecting the theories promoted by psychiatrist Leo Kanner and psychoanalyst Bruno Bettleheim, Dr. Rimland argued for a biological, specifically a neurological, basis for autistic behavior. He documented the similarities between brain injured children and autistic children, liberating parents from the destructive guilt associated with having an autistic child and pointing autism research in the direction it should always have taken: investigation into the biological mechanisms underlying brain and immune system dysfunction.

After founding the Autism Society of America (ASA) in 1965 and establishing the Autism Research Institute (ARI) in 1967, Dr. Rimland began distributing a questionnaire to parents of autistic children. Some 33 years later, he analyzed information he had collected in his databank pertaining to the age of onset of autism. He discovered that before the early 1980's, most of the parents reported their children first showed signs of abnormal behavior at birth or in the first year of life. But after the mid-1980's, there was a reversal of this pattern. By 2000, the numbers of parents reporting that their children developed normally in the first year and a half of life and then suddenly became autistic, doubled. Rimland commented "now the onset-at-18-month children outnumber the onset-at-birth children by 2 to 1."

In 2002, the National Vaccine Information Center awarded Dr. Rimland NVIC's Courage in Science Award. The award was presented to "Bernard Rimland, Ph.D. for demonstrating intellectual independence and personal courage in challenging medical science and its widely held view that the causes of autism are psychological and not biological. With the publishing of his ground-breaking 1964 book, Dr. Rimland shattered the view in psychiatry that autism in children is an emotional illness caused by cold and destructive mothering. His pioneering research established that the causes of autism are biological and not psychological.

"He helped to raise public awareness about autism when he worked on the academy award winning film, "Rain Man," whose lead character was modeled after his own autistic son. After having devoted more than 35 years to the study of autism, its biological causes and the development of healing therapies, Dr. Rimland today is once again challenging medical science as he publicly questions whether vaccination is one of the biological causes of autism in some children. For his dedication to truth in science and the public's right to know, Bernard Rimland is an outstanding example of what it means to have courage in science and is given NVIC's Courage in Science Award."

Bernie, as many of us called him, was a brilliant man with uncommon determination and a true love for the autistic children and their families, who he devoted his entire life to helping. Fearless and uncompromising in pursuit of the truth, his leadership and his great, good heart will be missed by all who knew him and by those who never knew him but whose lives are better because he was here.

Our deep sympathy is extended to his wife, family and his colleagues at the Autism Research Institute and Defeat Autism Now (DAN), which he co- founded with physicians committed to developing protocols for healing the brain and immune system dysfunction that defines autism.

Sad News from the Autism Research Institute

We are sorry to report that Dr. Bernard Rimland passed away earlier today [Nov. 21, 2006).

More information about Dr. Rimland will be posted on ARI's website,, in the next few days.

A graveside memorial service will be held Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 2 p.m. on the Shalom lawn at Greenwood Memorial Park in San Diego. The public is welcome to attend.

In lieu of flowers, Dr. Rimland's family asks that donations be made to the Autism Research Institute (4182 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116). Donations can also be made online on ARI's website.

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